A patient who lost half his pelvis to bone cancer has had a new one created on a 3D printer, it was reported last night.
Craig Gerrand, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, carried out the first transplant of its kind on an unnamed man in his 60s.
The patient, who had half his pelvis removed because of a rare cancer called chondrosarcoma, is now walking again with the aid of a stick.
Mr Gerrand, who works at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘The cancer affected virtually the whole right side of the pelvis.
‘Since this cancer does not respond to drugs or radiotherapy, the only option was to remove half of the pelvis.’
The surgeon said that so much bone had to be removed to stop the spread of cancer, he would have been unable to attach a standard implant made by hand.
He said there was a chance the 3D print might not fit, or that it might fracture, but added that the patient was aware of the risks.
It is widely believed that 3D printing has the capacity to revolutionise healthcare, with many medical applications for the procedure.
Although still in its infancy, surgeons and scientists are already collaborating on innovations, with computer-controlled machines assembling biological matter using organic inks and super-tough thermoplastics.
They range from reconstructing major sections of the skull to printing scaffolding upon which stem cells can grow into new bones.
In the future, it is thought 3D printing may even be able to deliver new organs for transplant into patients on demand.
For the pelvis operation, the surgical team used scans to measure the exact amount of bone that needed removing, and a replacement part was created on a 3D printer.
The measurements were passed on to Stanmore Implants, which created the bespoke implant by fusing layers of titanium together using a laser, and coating it with a mineral into which the remaining bone cells could grow.
Once the titanium pelvis was inserted into the patient, a standard hip replacement followe
Mr Gerrand told the Daily Telegraph that without a reconstruction the patient would have had one leg left ‘hanging’, unattached to the spine, and it would be shorter than the other.
During the 12-hour operation, the team used surgical navigation technology, where images of the pelvis were uploaded on to a computer to create a model on the screen.
Mr Gerrand said: ‘It’s quite easy with a complex organ such as the pelvis to get lost or take too much or too little bone.
‘Using surgical navigation technology means you can cut the bone exactly where you planned to cut.’
Three years after the operation, the patient is able to walk with the aid of a stick.
Mr Gerrand said: ‘It’s fantastic that you can do cool surgery but the real innovation will be when we don’t have to do this at all, because we have developed new treatments that can stop the cancer in its tracks.’